Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Dispatch from a Broken Brain

This past weekend, it was pointed out to me by some concerned citizens (beautiful and youthful concerned citizens, yes, hi ladies) that I have not issued any dispatches from the deep since July. There are several reasons for this, many of which have to do with the fact that the deep, inevitably, gets deeper and deeper, such that issuing anything besides farts or sighs gets more and more fraught with complications logistical, emotional, and digestive.

In a certain light, of course, you are never deeper down than in those early baby days, those strange dreamy months spent kneeling on the floor. (My rug, I remember, actually had blue smudges from months of being crawled upon by my be-jeaned knees.) But, from another perspective, it is in the end of the postpartum period and the putative return to real life* - mostly upright, mostly not carrying a baby, mostly speaking normal English to everyone in the house - that the rabbit hole truly opens up. Because you are suddenly expected, both by yourself and by everyone else around you, to act like a normal person. It is no longer acceptable for you to behave as though life should slow or stop just because you have a child. In the meantime, however, the child is doing his or her damnedest to slow or stop your life. I mean, as much as people talk about the newborn period being about loss of control, I have to tell you that you do not know what it means to be out of control of your life until you have a toddler.** It does not induce the desire to write poignant observations in a tastefully light-blue-and-cream blog*** as much as it induces catatonia.

Also, of course, the longer you do something, the more encumbered it gets. In the beginning, a thing is simple to do, and later, it is not. Such is the truth about everything in life, and blogs are no exception.

But really, these are small issues in comparison to Buffy. The real reason for my three-month communication freeze is Buffy.

Allow me to explain. In July, at the urging of concerned citizen LC, who I don't know whether to thank or punish, I began watching the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer for the first time. Now, I have been truly taken with TV shows before - Alias and Veronica Mars come to mind as having absorbed a great deal of my psychic energy. But NOTHING can compare to what Buffy did to me. For whatever reason, the show reached somewhere deep into my mind and sparked a hysterical intellectual brainstorm. For weeks, I vomited forth increasingly complex theories and ideas about superheroes, heroines, legends, horror, romance, archetypes, teleplays, screen plays, stage plays, fans, fandom, fanfiction, commercial television, pop culture, high culture, Romeo and Juliet, film noir, and on and on and on and on. Nothing in my brain or experience was left untouched: everything was re-oriented in the wake of Buffy, and I had to talk about every single one of these re-orientations until my throat was dry and my husband's eyes began rolling back in his head.

In addition to destabilizing me intellectually, the show also left me in ruins emotionally. I sobbed for literally hours over the horrifically star-crossed pairing of Buffy and Angel, completely unable to even rise from the couch after particularly tragic episodes. The emotional upheaval invaded every moment of my life. Sometimes, in the middle of perfectly innocuous conversations with my husband, I would suddenly gasp in pain.

"What's wrong?!"

"Oh...nothing...just...[sob sob]...I was thinking about Buffy."

I discussed the issue with my friend HA, who had also experienced Buffy upheaval. "Why?" I asked her, feeling desperate. "Why is it doing this to me?"

"Well," she said thoughtfully, "I think what happened is that it got at something in here," touching her forehead, "that was already a little broken."

And that is about the best explanation available: my brain was already a little broken, and Buffy broke it the rest of the way. In any case, broken-brained as I was, I yearned to put it all down on paper, to capture all that was wracking my brain and my heart. But the feelings were too strong, the thoughts too many and too inchoate. Write as I might, I got nowhere. And that is mostly why you heard nothing from me for three months. I tried and tried and got nowhere, and then fell out of the habit of trying.

I actually stopped watching Buffy in the middle of season 4, no longer able to deal with the continuous torture inflicted upon the characters by what must be an incredibly sadistic team of writers. For whatever reason, though, yesterday, flopped on the sofa suffering from an ailment that I will tell you about later, I decided that it was Buffy time again. I skipped the remainder of season 4 and went straight to season 5, hoping that things might get a little better. A quick glance at Wikipedia, though, tells me that my hopes are in vain: this season, the sadists are going to kill Buffy's mom, bring Angel back for a few terribly wrenching moments and send him away again, and make Spike fall in star-crossed love with Buffy. Horror. I watched the first episode anyway, though, and I think I will watch the second today. My brain is already broken, anyway - how much worse could it get? And you and I, we're back in touch again, so things couldn't possible go too wrong. Right? Right.


*I know that many people think of the postpartum period as being far shorter, like six months or maybe, at most, a year. But in my own experience - and this may because I continued to breastfeed for so long and/or because I never returned to full-time work and/or because "many people" are invariably full of shit and don't know what they're talking about - I did not stop feeling postpartum until around the two-year mark. By which I mean that it was not until about 24 months after I gave birth that I stopped feeling physically and psychologically defined by the fact that I had given birth in the near past.

**Or until you have my toddler. A doula colleague whose son is the same age as mine recently said, "I just love this age, don't you?" And watching her son sit through an hour-long grownup meeting peacefully scribbling in a notebook without making a peep, I concluded that I, too, love her son at this age.

***Jeez, are you so fucking bored of looking at this color scheme? Anyone out there up for designing something new?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Snack

So, the cloud is this: After having spent most of the day curled up on the couch with a headache, I finally managed to stumble out into the midst of a disgustingly hot, humid, government-heat-advisory day with the goal of going to Starbucks, obtaining caffeine (the lack of which may have led to the headache in the first place) and sugar and overpriced "micronutrient water," and then sitting down and getting some work done. (As abysmal a place as Starbucks is to get work done in - sorry about that preposition - it is a lot easier for me to convince myself to go there than to the library.) However, after I ordered my caffeine and sugar AND actually opened the dumb water and drank out of it, the clerk informed me that my debit card had been declined. Now, I knew that we had very little money in our bank account, but I did not realize that we had so little money that I could not obtain an overpriced snack. Indeed, a quick call to the bank informed me that we had precisely $0.78. On top of which, while I was on the phone with the bank, I at first pushed the wrong button, so instead of giving me my current balance, the automated system started reeling off check numbers and amounts with dizzying speed, but just slowly enough for me to hear that I have apparently bounced a check for $595, which is utterly mysterious because I cannot currently recall having written a check of that amount, and also utterly panic-inducing because (obviously) I do not currently have the money to pay that amount to whomever I had meant to pay it. In the meantime, back to the available balance/Starbuck issue, I had to tell the clerk to please put my things aside for me, and I would be right back with the money to pay for them. And then, boiling in embarrassment and the sun, I had to walk all the way home, get the $50 check that I (luckily) had just received in the mail on Saturday, walk to the bank, deposit the check, and then return to Starbucks to bail out my snack. When I got back to Starbucks, half an hour had passed, and the shift had changed, so I had to explain to the new clerk what had happened, and also live with the knowledge that the previous clerk probably left thinking that I had skipped out on my snack bill. By the time all this was over, I had lost about 45 minutes of the time that I had originally set aside for getting work done, and I was hot, sweaty, frustrated, in a state of souped-up financial panic, and aching with an unpleasant sense of humility, or maybe humiliation.

And the silver lining is this: When I got back to Starbucks, the new clerk inexplicably undercharged me for my snacks by half. BY HALF. Did she misunderstand and think I had already paid for part of it? Was she just not paying attention? I don't know and I don't care. I am confident that I earned the discount because I bore my trials with relative patience, without crying or screaming in frustration even once, and because I had the guts to actually return to Starbucks in the first place, when a younger, less stout-hearted me would have simply not gone back and then avoided the place for at least a full calendar year.

And silver lining Part II: After finally obtaining snacks and sitting down - and I got a whole table to myself when most of the other tables were being shared! - I discovered that there was a red wig lying under my table. This is truly, truly exciting, because now I can imagine that something very, very dramatic and very, very important was going on SOMEWHERE IN THIS VERY NEIGHBORHOOD, ON THIS VERY DAY. Like there was a spy or a detective or just a regular woman caught in some sort of dramatic and important and maybe even heartbreaking situation, and she was in disguise and maybe being followed and she had to quickly ditch her disguise or change into a new one, and she did it here at the Starbucks on 145th and Bradhurst, and now I am sitting in the EXACT PLACE where this very dramatic important thing happened. And it doesn't even matter that you and I both know that this wig was probably just dropped by a kid on the way home from summer drama camp, maybe at the Harlem School of the Arts just down the street; just the the very thought, the slimmest imagining that it might be something different altogether makes me feel brighter and energized and romantic again. We live in a magical world where there are wigs under tables, and the humiliation and the heat and the bank account don't even matter. They don't. They really, really don't.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Kloster

And then suddenly, I am in Dresden, Germany, standing in a sun-drenched cobblestone courtyard, looking dazedly at the flowers while my boss stands in the office inside, ordering my meals.

By which I mean to say this: awhile ago now, maybe back when it was still cold, one of my two bosses at the the retail baby store where I work as a sales clerk and also teaching classes decided that it would be a good idea for her to go to Dresden to complete her babywearing certification training. (Yes, such a thing exists, and it is treated with deathly seriousness here in Germany, here at Die Trageschule. My boss's husband refers to the trainer as "your Jedi master," and this captures the situation pretty accurately.) Needless to say, as soon I heard that such a trip might be in the offing, I could not rest until I was included. I pestered my bosses pretty much day and night for a couple of weeks, and finally, worn down I mean convinced, my bosses declared that I would be going to Dresden, too, and the store would pay.

The funny thing is that because the store was paying for and organizing the trip, I did not do much travel preparation. Of course I made sure that my husband and son would be taken care of (they are packed off to Abuela and Tia in Arizona), and of course I made lists and packed, but I did not look at a map, I did not purchase a phrase book, and I did not bother to even think about things like itinerary or activities or how I might be getting from one place to another.

So it almost seemed as though it was by magic that I ended up, after ten hours of overnight travel, standing in a Catholic kloster in Dresden, Germany, on the hill that rises above the river Elbe, too dazed to even try to help my boss talk to the non-English-dominant staff about how many meals we wanted and when we wanted them.

There are two main buildings here, one containing dormitory rooms and one containing seminar and meditation rooms. There are flowers the color of a fluorescent orange crayon that is in my son's crayon jar, with deep, dark, velvety centers. There is a small meditation chapel with an altar and a few stools of unfinished wood. There are enormous tangles of jasmine spilling an inconceivably sweet, wild scent onto the walking paths that wind around the property. There are stations of the cross. There are dark, quiet woods uphill, above the buildings and the gardens. There are masses of lavender and a few trellised grape vines. There are glossy jetblack squirrels and small bobbing poppies with paper-thin petals. There is clover everywhere. There are sheep. The birds sing. There are wildflowers on the table with our home-made lunch, and there is coffee and tea and cakes at 4. I have stumbled, it seems, into paradise.

There are a few minor problems. Like: I wish I had brought my Buddha Machine and my green jacket. Or: I blew my breast pump out, and simultaneously shorted the circuits in my little room with white muslin curtains, because I am too stupid to figure out how to use a currency converter plug. Or: our babywearing Obi Wan is taking us out to lunch today and I am worried that there will be nothing on the menu but meat, specifically some terrifying German meat like wiener or wurst or whatever, and I will have to eat it in order to be polite. But these are only small blips, and I am mostly in a dreamlike stupor, allowing myself to simply be carried by the current. I sit in a puddle of sunlight amidst piles of baby carriers in the room where we are having our training. I gently finger the nodding flowers as I walk past them on the paths. I collect pine cones on my morning walk, shivering against the early chill. I eat crumb cake dusted with powdered sugar and filled with vanilla custard that is nearly identical to the stuff inside the Boston cream donuts at Dunkin Donuts, except better. I am away from my son, away from my husband, away from my home, away from my friends. I am reading, though not much. I am listening to music, though not much. I am not really even thinking. When I do think, my thought is that when I get back to New York, it is time to have another baby.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

What Are My Feelings?*

Sometimes, the hardest thing to know is what I am actually feeling. Is it true that I would feel better if I worked less? Is it true that I feel better when I spend more time with my son? Is it true that not spending time with my son makes me feel rootless, shiftless, rudderless? (I almost wrote "udderless" - a Freudian slip? A Jungian one? Signs of an impending psychotic break? Nonsense?) Or is that simply the way one feels when one's life seems to be slipping out of the reigns a bit too much? Does one's life always seem to be slipping out of the reigns a bit too much? In any case, I know nothing of reigns or horses, and I suspect that that is not a properly constructed appropriate metaphor.

Here's what I am getting at, though, so listen. Was one ever happy? And is one actually unhappy right now? I mean, I think I was happy. I remember being happy. My husband would come home, and he would say, This is the happiest I have ever seen you. Maybe the baby would be asleep and I would be reading a book. Or maybe he would be awake looking at the toys dangling from the baby gym. And I would be happy, so much so that my husband would say that thing about me being happy, and I would agree. But I wasn't always happy, not even then. Not that I think that a person should be always happy; I'm just acknowledging that even that time that I am looking back upon as the happiest time of my life wasn't always really happy. And the unhappy was pretty badly unhappy, because I am me, and one of the things about being me is that being unhappy usually means being really, really, really unhappy. It's a good thing that I am not a drinker, because otherwise I would be a drunk. If drinking could make me forget about my feelings, or at least make me not care about them, I would do it a lot, all the time. ALL. THE. TIME.

But that is beside the point. The point is, Was I happy? And why? Could it be just because I wasn't working? Could it possibly be that simple? I had a new baby, yes, and my body and mind were reeling from the effect, yes, but I was not working - like, at a job, I mean. Could it be that the simple cessation of work was responsible for, say, 30-80% of my feelings of contentment? (With the continuing caveat that, yes, I know, I was not always content. But we can agree, can't we, that I was really noticeably happy? I mean, my husband noticed. Right?) And if that is the case, what does it mean for the old saw that you need to find yourself in your work or whatever? And what does it mean for the fervently-held (by me, maybe?) conviction that a woman must do something "outside of the home" if she is to keep herself truly fulfilled and happy? And what does it mean for me and my own continuous buying-in to the idea that I am really better off working?

Because look at me! Here I am: I have switched careers with gusto, with at least 50% of the motivation being the desire to work less and be home more. And am I home more? Am I working less? NO. I AM NOT. I AM BUSY AS FUCK. And I am not sure that I see any more of my son than I would if I had a normal fucking job with a normal fucking salary and some goddamn benefits. Please, sister. Please. Tell me what it means.

Listen, work gets you, and I don't just mean the money. There you are, meandering along, and you try doing a little something, because it seems convenient or wise or fun or something. And you are smart and you like to learn and to be successful, so you do learn, you learn quickly, and you are successful, and then, suddenly, you are enmeshed. So, just a hot moment ago, you were just a person dabbling in something, and now that something is forming the parameters of your life. You are committed, and you feel like you owe things to people, and like there is so much more success right around the corner, and it would really be a shame to drop things right now. And this happens really fast, and it happens with everything that you happen to stick your nose into, and then there are a million things, and you are juggling them all.

Is this what I wanted? Is this where I meant to be? Am I happy now? Was I ever happy before? Should I work less? Should I work more? Would anything change my feelings? Has anything ever changed my feelings? What are my feelings? Does it even matter? There is no clarity here except the clarity of the confusion, and it is perhaps a bad sign that I actually feel halfway content with just that.

*I can't quite remember why, but this phrase was, at one time, very funny indeed. It was a long time ago, like my second or third year of teaching, I think, and one of my colleagues had found this stupid article, like in Cosmo or Glamour or similar, that said something to the effect that men often don't know what they are feeling. Of course, this is standard Cosmo/Glamour fare, but there was SOMETHING that made this particular statement in this particular article REALLY FUNNY, although I cannot for the life of me remember what - a drawing? an infelicitous turn of phrase? - and we were just ROARING over it. And I went home and told my husband about it, and he was roaring too, and since then, he sometimes turns to me and says, "What are my feelings?" in a particularly sensitive, whiny, helpless voice, and this was funny to us for a long, long, time, although it is now just something we say out of habit, something that has lodged itself in our mutual discourse, despite having entirely shed its original meaning and impact.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Birthday, part 32

It is, inevitably, my birthday again. I am 32 today. It is, also inevitably, 4AM. I am eating leftover miso soup (on the principle that getting warm helps one fall asleep), and I am wearing orange pants, red socks, a pink sweater, and a coral-colored scarf (articles of clothing corresponding to ditto principle, color of clothing corresponding to Crazy). And for the first time in many, many years, I am not especially excited about it being my birthday.

Two years ago, I sat in this very same place at the kitchen counter, typing on this very same computer on this very same day, and I wrote to you to tell you that I am always, in spite of myself, excited on my birthday*. That was, anyway, a particularly special year. I was turning 30, I had just had just become a mother**, I had just begun to awe myself by writing this beautiful blog***, my dear college friend KG had sent me a fragrant bouquet of organic white roses and lilies in the mail, and everything seemed vital and dreamlike and on the brink of happening.

Now? I'm not sure what to say about now. My parents sent me a cake and 100 bucks, and my husband bought me a massage at Bliss and arranged for a friend to drive me home from Ikea tomorrow with some new furniture****. These things are all wonderful, and my husband is wonderful, and so is my son, and I am doing work that actually makes me happy. However, I cannot at this very moment seem to muster the wild surmise with which I have, on May 10s past, star'd at the Pacific (so to speak). I am 32, which is not nearly so exciting as 30, especially considering the fact that I keep thinking I am 33, perhaps a more piquant number, and my husband has to keep reminding me that I am not. My son is almost 2 and a half, and he walks and talks and cuddles and kisses and has horrifying, seizure-like tantrums. His care still rests entirely in my command, and will do so for years to come, but his life is now his own. He is a person in his own right, and his story is no longer mine. Coming home from Whole Foods today, he waved bye-bye to the taxi and ran up the sidewalk to our building. At the bottom of the stairs, I called his name, and he turned to me, and I asked him, "Will you remember today? Will you think about today when you're old?" And he looked into my eyes for a moment with a gaze either wise or uncomprehending, and then turned, giggling, to climb the stairs.

*At one time, I would have combed through my entries and linked to the one in question. But not right now. It is too late at night, and I am too ashamed of my recent non-productivity to confront myself with my past hyper-productivity.

**At the time, 5 months in, I already felt as though I had been a mother for ages, but I am stunned now, looking back, at how very NEW it was - 5 months! I had only been a mother for 5 months! - and I know with certainty that one day I will look back at this time and be stunned at the thought of only having been a mother for 2 and a half years.

***I feel as though I can say this with no compunction because, my dear, darling, long-suffering readers, I know that it is no longer such a beautiful blog. I don't write as much, as well, as poignantly as I did then - life intervenes - maybe I will start again soon - maybe next week - maybe tomorrow - maybe today?

****This is, like, the ultimate present to give a car-less New Yorker; while Ikea is easy enough to get to, getting the furniture home is quite an issue. You could rent a truck or have them deliver, but either of these options costs about 100 bucks, which is not the end of the world, but does make you feel as though you should wait until you have enough money to buy ALL of the furniture that you need instead of just purchasing in drips and drabs, with each drip and each drab occasioning an additional 100-buck get-it-home cost. And of course, you never have enough money for ALL of the furniture that you need, so you never go to Ikea except when you have been very, very, very good about making credit card payments for months on end, or when your parents have decided to be far more generous than they can actually afford to be. So it seems like the most amazing luxury to be able to go to Ikea and buy only A LITTLE furniture - just what I can afford and need most at this very moment - and bring it home the very same day FOR FREE.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Cod Liver Oil

Sometimes, I feel as though there is nothing good at all. I feel this way even when it is demonstrably untrue. Like now, some things are great. To wit: I just bought an iPad! I just took a childbirth educator certification workshop! It is warm outside! Despite such good things, though, I feel overwhelmed by complaints. I have no time. I have no money. I'm a month behind in all household bills. I want to send my son to nursery school, but I don't think we can afford it. I don't have time to go to yoga. I don't have a computer with which to sync my iPad and am desperately anxious that I will lose all of my data. I never write anymore. I'm exhausted. I'm reading a truly horrible trashy mystery novel that appears to be solely about how terribly unsatisfying and depressing it is to be a mother, and I refuse to stop reading it.

This morning, though, everything came to a head with the yogurt incident. First, allow me to explain that my son's teeth are rotting. Horrifyingly, this is a really common phenomenon these days: everyone's infants have brown spots, cavities, visible decay, and I don't know what. And as much as your local pediatric dentist would like you to believe it, this is not about too much juice and not enough brushing. Because if it were, then everyone in my generation - shit, am I old enough to have a generation? - would also have had brown spots, multiple cavities, and visible decay in our infancy, and we didn't. The thing is, baby tooth enamel is formed in utero, so something is going REALLY WRONG in our food or our environment or somewhere that is adversely affecting the fetal development of baby tooth enamel and WHO KNOWS WHAT ELSE. Oh my God.

Anyway, so, my son has rotting teeth. One thing I am doing about this, in addition to brushing like crazy as the Beach Boys instruct, is cod liver oil. For reasons that are too complicated for me to understand, let alone explain, it appears that increasing the consumption of certain vitamins and fats (like the ones in cod liver oil) can potentially effect the remineralization of decaying teeth - like, the teeth re-grow healthy from the inside out. Unbelievable, I know, but some moms out there are swearing by it, and if it will prevent my child having to be put under general anesthesia in order to have his little baby teeth yanked out of his little baby head, I'm all for it. So I've been trying to get the kid to take cod liver oil. First, I had an unflavored kind, and I hid it in juice or smoothies. But, understandably, his willingness to consume fishy juice and smoothies was not reliable, so I bought the lemon-flavored kind. I thought this would be an end to my problems, because it really does taste like lemon, and he generally loves lemon, but no such luck. He refuses to take it on a spoon, and, bizarrely, he is no more reliable about consuming lemony juice and smoothies than he was about consuming fishy juice and smoothies. I just do my best to sneak it into anything I can and hope he doesn't notice.

So, anyway, this morning, when he finished a bowl of yogurt with freeze-dried strawberries and then asked for more, I had a brainwave. Why not give him lemon-flavored yogurt with freeze-dried strawberries. So I mixed up a bowl and tasted it, and it tasted great, and I gave it to him, and he spat it out and refused to have anything more to do with it. This was, in itself, a blow. The tiny little flask-shaped bottle of lemon-flavored cod liver oil cost me $22, and I hate to even waste the bit of oil that coats a spoon or the inside of a sippy cup, plus there was the whole bowl of yogurt and strawberries all gone to waste. But there was nothing to be done for it, and anyway I still needed to give my son a bowl of yogurt that he would eat. So I used a different - non-lemony - bowl and a different - non-lemony - spoon, and made him up another bowl of yogurt and strawberries and brought it to him, and HE REFUSED TO EAT IT. Maybe it was too tainted with lemony memories, maybe he just wasn't interested anymore - whatever the reason, he categorically refused to have anything to do with it.

Now, you might think that this does not sound like such a big deal, and you might be right. But I am here to tell you that this morning, holding out a spoon of yogurt and strawberries to my son and having him shout a joyful "NOOOOOOOO!!!!" in its direction made me want to DIE. Because I had all the other complaints anyway: the time, the money, the bills, the nursery school, the yoga, the computer, the writing, the exhaustion, the trashy novel. And then, on top of that, to have wasted two bowls of yogurt, to have possibly permanently ruined my son's willingness to consider yogurt to be a viable foodstuff, to have wasted a valuable spoonful of cod liver oil, to be thwarted in my remineralization attempts - suddenly life seemed tragic. I wilted and began to cry.

"Um," said my husband carefully, emerging from the shower to find me sitting on the couch, leaking tears, surrounded by two bowls of yogurt and a toddler shouting "NOOOOOOOO!!!" "You could send him to daycare today if you need a little rest." I shook my head and sniffled. "No," I whispered, "I'm fine." And, while this was an observably false statement, it was true that I did not particularly want to send my son to daycare. The truth is that I feel just as decentered and unstable if I spend too much time away from my son as I do if I spend too much time with him. I had been looking forward to our day together, and I did not want to give it up. At the same time, I knew that I was not quite okay. It was a very bad sign indeed to already, at 9:00AM, have been reduced to tears by a fit of toddler whimsy. Perhaps it would be best to send him to daycare after all. And thus I sat on the couch in tears, in a quandary, my poor toddler looking at me with increased concern. (My husband had, by this time left for work.) Should I go ahead and pack the kid off to daycare? That would give me the whole day to myself to get work done, and if I don't do it today, my next working day isn't until Tuesday. Or, on the other hand, should I spend the day with him? If I don't do it today, my next kiddo bonding day isn't until Monday. Either choice seemed final and terrible.

Happily, my son solved the problem. He climbed into my lap and asked to nurse, and within minutes of latching on, had fallen fast asleep. It looked, in the moment, like an infinitely generous gesture on his part: by taking his nap early, he was granting me a little more time to myself before I began my day with him. I carried him to the bedroom, tucked him gently into the bed, and scurried back to the living room. I have not written to you about my life in ages. There is so much to tell. I don't even care that this is an undigested mess. I am just happy to give it to you.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Sick

I am not sure if this six-days-and-counting bout of dripping nose/stuffed head is allergies or a cold. I have been telling myself and everyone else that it is allergies, because both of my jobs - doula and babywearing expert (har!) - basically consist of me putting my hands and breath all over people with not-impeccably-operational immune systems. So if I really thought I were sick, it would perhaps be ethically correct for me to stop putting my hands and breath all over the aforementioned people, and instead stay home, confining my germs to my immediate family. However, a pernicious side effect of not working is not getting paid. Thus, it behooves me to remain confident that I could not possibly be sick and have no possible reason to not work.

It it is a bit of a quandary, though, because I have a great deal to do right now - write a birth story, schedule a postnatal meeting, continue working on certification paperwork, write copy for my website, complete the several blog entries that I started but never finished in the past few weeks - and I do not want to do any of it. Instead, I want to lie on the couch and read the New Yorker. (Although lately I am sliding into one of my recurring periods of New Yorker fatigue, where everything in the magazine seems like trite, tiresome, arrogant babble. So maybe I don't want to lie on the couch and read the New Yorker as much as I want to lie on the couch and watch bad TV on Hulu.) If I were sick, such lassitude would be perfectly normal, even healthy. In fact, even as I write these words, I am feeling heavier of body and achier of limb, and it is dawning on me that this is obviously not allergies, but rather a cold, and a pretty bad cold at that. I can't quite believe that I have spent well-nigh a week proclaiming to all and sundry that I cannot possibly be sick because I feel perfectly fine. This is clearly rubbish; I am sick, and I feel sick, and I can't possibly expect myself to do any work, and now I am going to go lie down on the couch and watch bad TV on Hulu.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine's Gray

Today - Valentine's Day - around 5 o'clock in the afternoon, I found myself trudging up Adam Clayton Powell Jr Boulevard, walking straight into the wind, wrestling the stroller over the gray floes of slush encrusting the sidewalk, and feeling very dark indeed.

Last night, I was up late, for hours and hours after the baby fell asleep. At first, I was pleasantly awake, eating English toffee and semi-obsessively window-shopping online for things - lambskins, wools, fitted diapers - that I might want for a theoretical second baby. After awhile, though, I turned a corner of some sort, and I was suddenly uncomfortably awake - too anxious, irritable, and jumpy to eat or shop for anything, theoretical or not. My husband was out with friends, and I began to worry over how long he had been gone and be upset that he was not yet home, and then I began to call him to demand that he come home, but he did not answer, either because he didn't hear his phone or because he suspected that I would be unpleasant if he did answer, or maybe some of both. Finally, though, he came home, and finally, around 4AM, I fell asleep.

All of this would have been fine but for the fact that the baby jumped out of bed around 7AM, refreshed and well-rested and ready to play, and I had to drag my sorry no-sleep ass into the living room to keep him company. Then, at noon, I went to a prenatal meeting, which was essentially uncomplicated, yet horribly stressful because the couple in question are Japanese and my Japanese has been steadily crumbling away over the past ten years or so, to the point that even being in the same room as a Japanese person brings me hot flashes of shame and guilt and makes me want to sew my lips together and never talk again. And after this, my husband and the baby and I all went to Community Food and Juice for a family Valentine's Day brunch. This was a nice idea, of course, and brunch was delicious, but it was not an especially relaxing exercise, given the fact that my son is two, and that the high points of restaurant-going for him are: going to the bathroom as many times as possible, clinking glasses together, drinking other people's beverages, sprinkling salt and pepper on everything, throwing sugar packets, and leaving.

After we got home from brunch, I was certain that the baby would nap, but it does not pay to be certain. Instead of going to sleep, he ran around the bedroom bonking things and then demanded that I read him a Japanese alphabet book over and over and over again. As I read, my eyes began to fall shut of their own volition, and my throat, which had had a hint of soreness when I got up in the morning, got scratchier and scratchier. It was torture - I wanted to sleep but I could not - my throat hurt - the baby was prodding me to open the book yet again - I could not. I shut the book. "We're going for a walk in the stroller," I announced, and out we went.

I had hoped that the baby would fall asleep the moment the wheels hit the pavement, but this was not the case. He was very quiet, but he peered out alertly from under his fleece hat, and it seemed that he had always been awake and would always be so. So we walked. We walked the mile or so to 125th Street, and I went into H&M with the plan of buying myself something pretty to help lift my biliously miserable mood. But there was nothing pretty, nothing mood-lifting, nothing cheap enough to be tempting, and so out we went again, across the cold, windswept square in front of the State Office Building. At a loss for anywhere else to go, I turned back home, even though I had resolved not to go home until the baby was sound asleep.

Just before 135th Street, I saw a striking figure walking towards me, a pretty, thin, young woman smoking a cigarette, wearing a military-style parka with the hood thrown luxuriously back and a beautiful golden-tan patterned scarf and tall boots. As we got closer to each other, I saw that her boots were the knee-high, shearling-lined clog boots that Sven Clogs custom-makes for No. 6 Store on Centre Market Place - the very boots that I bought for myself last fall and that are the single most expensive item in my entire wardrobe. Her boots, though, were this year's model, so the clog base was solid wood instead of being broken up with a segment of rubber, and the heel was higher. And, while mine are dark brown with the shearling dyed to match, hers were a slightly lighter brown with natural shearling.

As she passed by, willowy and urban and insouciant and smoky, a wave of bitterness washed over me. In that moment, I liked her boots better than mine - they seemed cooler, more modern, less outdoor necessity and more fashion statement. I wondered - will my every single, precious, carefully-thought-out purchase end up this way, looking slightly dingy compared to the next year's model? I wondered - why do I even care, why do I even go to H&M to look for something pretty when now and for the rest of my life, I am bound to be passed on the street by ever-younger, ever-prettier girls who will always be wearing this year's model while I hunch under my dingy red nylon coat and push my dingy red stroller, wearing a pair of tiresomely boot-cut corduroys that my mother bought for me at Ann Taylor Loft for $9.99.

And I thought - how can I even think about a theoretical second baby? How could I ever cobble together the strength to do this all over again, or do rather do it double-wide, double-time? I thought - I have no more to give, no more in me. I am giving everything I have right now, just to push the damn stroller over the damn slush when I am tired and unhappy on a gray Valentine's Sunday, and what will I do when I get home and he is still awake and needing me to read the book or change the record or push the truck? How could I even dream of doing this again, more?

I looked up from this miserable reverie to see a short, youngish Latino woman standing in front of Sea to Sea Fish Market, gesticulating towards the stroller as we walked towards her. People in my neighborhood are unaccountably nosy and bossy in regards to babies, and I am always being told to watch my baby more closely or dress him more warmly, so I steeled myself for what I was sure would be a comment about his bare, unmittened hands. "Hey mami," she said as we drew abreast, "your baby is leaning over." Startled, I bent to look into the stroller, and I almost sobbed with hysterical relief to find that my baby had finally fallen fast asleep, his head slumped out of the stroller to the right, his right hand almost trailing on the ground. I felt as though someone had suddenly released a vise that had been gripping my lungs, and I drew a deep breath of fresh, cold air as I straightened and turned to thank the lady and tell her that it was OK, because we were almost home.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Two Mysteries and a Mistake

Two mysteries awaited me when I woke up on Sunday morning.

First, there was the issue of the baby in the bed. I awoke to find myself sleeping on the left side of the bed - my husband's side. This was not mysterious. My husband had been out very late the night before playing music, and I had gone to sleep before he got home. The baby had been occupying most of my side of the bed, and instead of pushing him into the center as I would have done if my husband had been there, I just flopped down on the other side, turned my back to the baby, and went to sleep. So it was not weird that that is where I woke up. The weird thing was that the baby was no longer on my side of the bed. Instead he was curled up very tightly, spooned into my tummy, sharing my husband's side with me. In other words, when I had gone to sleep, the baby had been behind me, on my side of the bed, and now he was in front of me, on my husband's side of the bed. Now, the baby - like most people - certainly moves around a fair amount in the night, but he does not go so far as to climb over people while in a deep sleep. He would need to have been at least a little awake to climb over me, and if he were awake enough to do that, he would have been awake enough to want to nurse, and if he had wanted to nurse, he would have woken me up. But I was sure that (for once) I had not been woken up at all in the night, and also, my nursing bra was securely latched, which is usually not the case when a great deal of night nursing has been going on.

I mulled this problem over in my barely-awake brain for a few moments before deciding that my husband must have moved the baby in order to make room for himself on my side of the bed. It was, of course, strange that, rather than simply shoving the baby over, he had elected to actually pick him up and put him somewhere else. Also, it seemed unlikely that the baby would have borne this without waking up - and again, I was sure he didn't wake up because I was sure he hadn't nursed. But still, I reasoned foggily, it was a hypothesis that fit the facts. After a few more moments, I decided that I ought to test my hypothesis, and that perhaps the best way to do so would be to check if my husband was, indeed, asleep on my side of the bed. So I reached a tentative hand out to explore the space behind me, only to find that my husband was not there. A blow to my brilliant hypothesis.

Feeling around a bit more, though, I came across a wet, soggy spot - the telltale sign of a toddler bed-pee. This suggested a possible alternate hypothesis. Perhaps my husband had come into the bedroom, attempted to push the baby aside to lie down on my side of the bed, found that side to be peed upon, placed the baby on the other side of me away from the wet spot, and went off to sleep on the (dry) couch in the living room. Again, very odd that the baby hadn't woken up during this operation. Very odd, too, that my husband didn't follow our usual, simpler bed-pee procedure of just covering the wet spot with a blanket and going to back to sleep. Ruminating, I turned back towards my still-sleeping baby and gave him an absent-minded cuddle, only to realize that he still had his wet PJ pants on. Would my husband really have just left him wet? Usually, the very first thing we do in a bed-pee situation is to drag the wet pants off and throw them on the floor. Why, if my husband had been so very concerned about taking the baby away from the wet spot altogether, had he not been concerned about the baby sleeping in wet clothes? It didn't make sense.

Indeed, the more I thought about things, the less any explanation made any sense. I was, by this time, fully awake, and also really annoyed because I could not figure out what the hell had happened in the night. This may seem like a minor issue to you, and you're right in the sense that, given that no one was hurt and everyone seemed to have slept well, it didn't actually matter what had happened in the night. However, it is not too often that, first thing in the morning, one finds oneself in a situation that has no immediately obvious, logical explanation. (At least, I hope it's not too often for you. That is, if you're over 23. If you are under 23 and can report that you often, or sometimes, wake up in a situation that has no logical explanation, that is OK. Enjoy.) So it was with a distinctly sour mood and a confused sense of having been wronged that I got myself out of bed and traipsed into the living room. (The baby, in the meantime, remained asleep, which, in hindsight, is also bizarre, as he usually wakes up when I do.)

In the living room, I found my husband asleep on the couch under a blanket. This was normal enough. I passed into the kitchen (which is basically in the living room) to get myself a glass of water and to encounter the second mystery. On the kitchen counter stood a jar of peanut butter, a jar of jam, and an empty bag that had once held the last few slices from a loaf of sourdough bread. This also was normal - my husband's favorite late-night snack is a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich, so I often encounter this sort of detritus on the counter in the morning. There were also other things on the counter - a few spoons and a fork, a toy airplane, a pot of Japanese hand cream, some bills, some empty CD cases, a glass of stale water. None of this was unusual - we are cluttery people, and that is what surfaces look like in our household. Sitting at the counter and drinking my glass of water, though, I suddenly realized that there was something strange about the picture in front of my eyes. I looked closer - could it be? Yes. THE WINGS OF THE TOY AIRPLANE WERE COVERED WITH PEANUT BUTTER.

Now, this particular toy airplane is a little wooden biplane with a little wooden propeller. A few weeks ago, in a fit of being two, my son dashed the plane to the ground, breaking the top wings off. Since then, because I keep forgetting to purchase wood glue, the top wings have been held on - fairly securely - with a couple of green rubber bands. Now, however, the top wings were detached again, and the bottom wings were smeared with peanut butter. This was no accident - like, oops, dropped the plane into the peanut butter jar, or oops, dropped the sandwich onto the plane. No, someone had clearly removed the top wings and neatly spread dollops of peanut butter on the bottom wings. But WHY?

"HEY!" I yelled at my sleeping husband. He jolted awake. "WHAT HAPPENED HERE?"

"What? Where?"

"WHY DID YOU PUT PEANUT BUTTER ON THE PLANE?"

"WHAT?! I didn't put peanut butter on the plane."

"YES, YOU DID. GET UP AND LOOK AT THIS."

He dragged himself off the couch and squinted sleepily at the kitchen counter. I pointed.

"THERE IS PEANUT BUTTER ON THE PLANE. WHY DID YOU DO THAT?"

"I didn't put peanut butter on the plane." He looked at it again. "What? No, I didn't do that. Did I do that? What?"

And we both gazed at the counter. Closer examination revealed other, smaller bizarrities. For example, the three spoons and one fork lying on the counter were ALL smeared with peanut butter. Also, a dollop peanut butter was floating in the water glass.

"Hey," I said, after a little thought, "did you come into the bedroom and move the baby?"

"No," my husband said, "I didn't."

And there was, really, nothing more to say.

In an (I think) unrelated occurrence, I found this morning that the cup of coffee for which I have - for months - been blithely putting a dollar bill on the counter at the bodega actually costs a dollar twenty-five.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Snow Night

Written some time in late December, 2009.

I am a horrible, horrible mother, and I need to have my mothering license revoked. The first piece of foolishness was going out at all tonight. Who takes a toddler to an adult holiday party at 8:30PM in the middle of an ever-worsening snowstorm? Me. (Or rather I?) I did that. And I stayed until 11, drinking wine and playing Apples to Apples while my son wandered around eating pretzels and cookies and rolled Christmas tree ornaments across on the floor and then absentmindedly twisted himself into my lap to nurse while the other partygoers tried to pretend not to notice. And then he walked to the door and asked to go home, at which point I should have called a car service. But instead, I bundled us both up, borrowed some money from a friend (because why be responsible enough to make sure I have round trip cab fare before leaving the house?), and blithely walked out on the street with my toddler in the middle of a blizzard. I was on Manhattan and 108th, and I walked up to 110th on the principal that it would be easier to get a cab there. But really, there were no cabs anywhere, and the wind was biting and the snow blowing sideways. By the time we got to the circle at the corner of 110th and Frederick Douglass, my little son, not quite two, still a baby really, on my back in a wrap, had begun to cry. There were still no cabs, so I kept walking, and he began to cry even harder, and I wanted to cry myself, because it was snowy and windy and I did not know how we were going to get home. Should I go back to the party? Should I call my friend who was still at the party and ask her to come pick us up and let us stay at her apartment just a block away until the snow quieted? My son had begun to arch and struggle away from me on my back, and afraid that he would struggle free entirely, I untied the wrap, which was already wet, and tried to lower him gently to his feet, but he was wiggling and kicking too much and he fell back in the snow instead and opened his mouth and screamed. I lifted him to me, and he continued to scream furiously and arch away from me. I looked around me – was anyone watching me? Was anyone seeing what a horrible, horrible mother I was to take a not-quite two-year-old out at 11PM in a blizzard, and then to drop him in the snow while waiting for a non-existent cab?

Finally, finally, a white livery cab pulled to a slow stop across the street from me. The snow and slush seemed, suddenly, to be as loud as a cage full of roaring lions, and we yelled at each other as though across a great distance.

“WHERE YOU GOING?!”

ONE HUNDRED FORTY FIRST STREET!”

“HOW MUCH YOU PAY?!”

“I ONLY HAVE NINE DOLLARS!”

He looked at me disbelievingly. Usually, the fare from that spot to my apartment would be seven dollars, but I realized, too late, that in this snow, and considering the fact that he would have to turn around and drive opposite the direction he meant to go, nine dollars was nowhere near the right fare. But I had nothing more. “NEVER MIND!” I yelled, feeling spiteful and forlorn, and turned to trudge back towards the party, my sobbing son on my hip, when the driver took pity. “OKAY! COME ON!” And before he could change his mind, I stumbled over the snow banked at the curb and rushed across one lane of traffic to hurl myself and my son into the car, spraying snow and ice and water all over the back seat.

The car windows were crusted over with snow, and I could barely see where we were going as we part-slid, part-drove up Frederick Douglass at about two miles an hour. My son alternately clutched at me and pushed me away, sobbing and sobbing in an agony of – what? Cold? Fear? Exhaustion? Confusion? As we passed the neon signs at 125th, though, he began to quiet, and I opened my coat and he nursed, his wet jacket cold against my bare skin.

At home, I peeled our wet things off as quickly as possible and took my baby straight to bed, where he nursed to sleep almost immediately. His memory, once nonexistent, is certainly getting better, but I do not know if he will remember, tomorrow morning, sobbing and screaming at the corner of 110th and Frederick Douglass, begging an impassive universe for mercy. And if he does remember, I do not know what he will think of the memory; I can only hope that it will not dampen his enthusiasm for going to the park tomorrow and enjoying the first real snow of his boyhood.

Bus Stop

Written some time in mid-December 2009.

New York City can be a tragic place to be when it is cold and raining. Today, it is dark and cold and wet, and I had to wait for the bus. First, I thought I was having good luck, as the bus came right when I got to the stop. But when I swiped my MetroCard, the little screen said INSUFFICIENT FARE, and the same thing happened with the other three MetroCards I scrounged out of the bottom of my bag, so I had to get off at the next stop two blocks down and walk back home to get quarters out of the washcloth drawer in the kitchen bureau. The quarters heavy in my pocket, I set out for the bus stop again, but my luck had run out. The bus did not come. It did not come, and did not come, and did not come, and the blonde in lace-up wellies gave up and hailed a cab, and then the round-faced African man in a brown jacket gave up and hailed a cab, and I stayed, reading 2666, and the bus did not come. My cell phone had told me that it would be 52 degrees, so I had not dressed warmly, and the wind stung my body. I wished I had gloves, a hat, a heavier sweater, a longer scarf, legwarmers, or at least a pack of tissues, but I did not dare run back across the street and upstairs to my apartment to get any of these things, for fear that the bus would come, sneakily, behind my back.

About halfway through my wait, a mother and toddler joined me at the bus stop. The mother collapsed the stroller in preparation for getting on the bus, and I wanted to warn her that the prospects for that were not so good, but I also did not want to open a conversation, so I didn't say anything. The cold was biting, and the bus still did not come, and I clutched 2666 desperately in my frozen hands, trying to pretend that it was occupying my attention. I had begun to want to cry, and the mother and toddler made me feel even worse. I watched her pull a hat down over his head, and it made me wish: 1) that I had a hat for my own head; 2) that I had my toddler with me so that I, too, could make those comforting and normalizing gestures that would keep my from feeling as though I was about to fall into a cold, gray, lonely abyss; and 3) that my toddler would submit to being hatted as peacefully as this one. The toddler whimpered and raised his arms, and his mother lifted him to her hip, and I wished even more that my toddler were with me, warm and reassuring and heavy on my hip, making me feel like a reasonable adult, rather than a weak, damp, sniveling creature curled against the wind.

And then, finally, the bus came, and I folded 2666 under my arm and climbed aboard and carefully tipped my quarters into the sinkhole, suddenly worried that I may have miscounted. But the little screen said I had the correct fare, and I walked to the middle of the bus and bumped myself into a forward-facing seat. The mother, toddler and stroller climbed on after me and settled into the side-facing handicapped seats right behind the driver.

I opened 2666 again, but found that I could not focus on the wandering sentences, and instead I took out my notebook to write this lament. When I looked up from my writing, the mother and child were no longer on the bus and we were just turning left on Central Park North and wet rocks glared at me blackly through the almost-bare trees.